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24 December 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: Favorite Layouts of 2014

In 2014, I have shared two heritage scrapbooks featuring my maternal grandparents Lewis Brown and Louise Long Brown. Towards the end of the year, I started series of my childhood heritage album. All of these posts have been well received and now I will highlight your favorite layouts shared in the past year.

Favorite Layouts (by page hits)

Have You Noticed the Page Size?
Same Topic, Different Approach
Lewis Brown Birth
Father's Page: Sherman Brown
A Final Page About Lew Brown
Incomplete Trees

Favorite Layouts (by Google+)

Magazine Style Timeline
Louise's Album Recap
Photo Timeline
Childhood: Americana Theme
70s Style Cover Page

Things I Learned About Myself
While Scanning

(not a layout, but lessons learned
while preparing to scrapbook)

Thanks to all of my wonderful readers for following, reading, and sharing my efforts to encourage and inspire you to create your own family history scrapbooks. Thank you to everyone who has supported me through leaving comments and sharing emails featuring their work. Such motivating communication keeps me wanting to not only scrapbook more but also share more of my work to keep the inspiration cycle going. And finally, thank you to all who have supported my scrapbooking addiction by purchasing my eBooks Power Scrapbooking and Family History Scrapbooking Simplified. The tremendous response to these books has me thinking about writing another one. All I need to do know is figure out what you would like me to write next!

Have a wonderful Holiday Season! My regularly scheduled scrapbooking series will resume after the first week in January.

22 December 2014

I Made A Difference For That One

Why did I write my book? Why do I love teaching at family history conferences? Why do I share the things I've learned about my family on this blog? Why do I talk non-stop about family history to anyone who would listen? Because my efforts will make a difference.

Bonnie Burgamy Starfish

Do you know this poem? I heard it so often as while I competed in pageants. It was such a great motivational piece. Today, it is now a great motivational piece for me as a family historian.

Earlier this month I helped a friend find the birth certificate for her husband's grandfather. We may have extended that family line back one generation (we'll find out after further research). I can't wait to hear what her husband has to say to all of this! (Especially since he kept asking her when she'd work on his line!)

Last Tuesday, a sweet friend shared with me a story of how she discovered more about an ancestor and the cousin she met along the way. I loved the story just as much as if this was my family discovery. She said this all started by sharing my love of family history. I'm so humbled.

In pageants, I was told to have a platform I was passionate about. Back then, it was "Lead By Example." It wasn't fit for pageantry, but certainly, something that I attempt to follow. Today, Family History might not be a 'pageant worthy' platform, but it is my passion. If I were ever to do a pageant again, it would be my platform, regardless of it was a 'good fit' or not. I don't plan on competing in heels and a gown anytime soon, but I do hope I can promote the benefits of family history as if I wore a crown.

 Order 21st Century Family Historian Today!
Order the book mentioned above!

I share, invite, and talk to a lot of people about how family history is for everyone, and how they should get involved. For many, my efforts seem a bit pointless. Getting those without motivation to become interested in family history, may seem like tossing starfish back into the sea. I still throw the starfish.

When I have or heard about experiences like these, I recognize that I am a part of something greater than myself. My little efforts do make a difference, and I am so glad I tossed. I have and do 'make a difference for that one.'

19 December 2014

Elusive Ancestor: Oscar Ward

If you look at my fan chart, you'll find it complete for many generations. In my 3rd great-grandparent bracket, there are names but no stories. Today I'm focusing on Oscar Ward for a challenge that I've been meaning to do since the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post of April 2013. Better late than never, right?

Oscar Ward of New York and Michigan
Oscar Ward's partial family tree available at

I know that Oscar Ward was probably born in New York in 1836. I believe him to be the son of:

Chester Ward (b. about 1820 in New York)

Mariah (b about 1820 in New York or New Jersey)

Oscar's family moved to Genesee, Michigan prior to the 1850 US Census.

I believe that Oscar was their only child for a long time. The 1870 and 1880 US Census record suggest that Oscar has a brother named William Ward who was born in 1866 after Oscar married. 

Oscar married Jeanette between 1860 and 1870 as the family appeared in the 1870 US Census with two children:
1. Emeline Ward (b 1866 Bay City, Bassar, Michigan, United States)
2. George H Ward (b. 1869 in Michigan, United States)

I can not determine what happens to the family after the 1870 US Census, with the exception of Emeline, as she's my 2nd great-grandmother. The details for Oscar, his parents, wife, and son George just stop.

The Genea-Musing challenge asked what we should do to research this problem further. The truth is... I'm not sure. I'm stuck trying to figure out where these folks are in 1880, alive, dead, or misrecorded. I'm hoping that something will trigger a break in the wall so I can at least at some more details to these New York natives and Michigan residents. With a name like Oscar Ward and a father named Chester, both born in New York, the trouble is only just beginning.

17 December 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: Baby's First Christmas

If there's one thing I love about Christmas, is that the color combination works beautifully for vintage Christmas photos.Look how nicely the green compliments the 1970s era photos and a splash of red draws your attention to the page.

Vintage Baby First Christmas Scrapbook
Baby's First Christmas: Paper: "All I Want For Christmas" kit by
Growing Pains Scrapped; Lace: from "Refreshing" kit by
Lyllah Raven Designs; Flowers from "Out with the Old" kit
by Irene at; Ribbon from "Americana" kit from
No Reimer Reason

I wanted to point out that the design elements for this layout came from several different kits. If you feel like your unable to find the one right kit for your layout, pick elements from different kits. The "All I Want for Christmas" and "Out With the Old" kits are holiday inspired but the "Refreshing" kit reminds me of summer and the "Americana" kit I used in my grandfather's heritage scrapbook.

This layout seems to feature my brother, rather than me, during my first Christmas. And that's okay. There probably wasn't much that I was doing my first Christmas other than sleeping and that doesn't make for a great story. I love these photos because you can see what the inside of my first home was like. You can see the pajama style my brother wore and the toys he obtained. There are so many wonderful details from the past in these busy photos, that again I opted for very limited embellishments. For more tips on how to craft a family history scrapbook, get a copy of my eBook Create a Family History Scrapbook Digitally in 12 Simple Steps.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Stay tuned in the New Year for more heritage scrapbook layouts.

10 December 2014

Best Personal and Family History Posts of 2014

Moving to Texas
The neighbors around our new place are amazing. The move
has been so much easier with this kind of community.
Perhaps I am jumping the gun for the first of my 2014 wrap up posts. Perhaps not. As the year comes to a close, I have reflected on all the many wonderful memories I have made, the changes that have occurred, and the stories I have shared. I have many guiding principles with respect to family history, but the major hone is "If family history isn't fun, you're doing it wrong!"

With that in mind, I wanted to share some reader and my personal favorite posts from the year that focus on this great hobby/work.

Personal History Favorites
  1. The worst day of my life, The lessons for my posterity
  2. Remember the time when Mom smashed her face
  3. Remember when Mom wore a swimsuit to buy a house
  4. Inspiring my husband to write a book
  5. Inspired by family history writing class

Family History Favorites

21st Century Family Historian
The additional highlight from this year is the release of my book 21st Century Family Historian. I wrote this book with two wonderful folks in mind and the project expanded to include a variety of individuals. The feedback has been so positive with many saying they're going to do something to capture and preserve their family history. That was the goal of my book. That is the goal of the educational posts on this blog. I want to inspire people to play their position on the family history team. We need the family history tent to get a lot bigger so the stories can become so much richer.

Google Analytics can only tell me so much. Leave a comment of which was your favorite ,Patient Genealogist post from 2014 (and perhaps why).

07 December 2014

Sentimental Sunday: Conference Class Triggers Bittersweet Memory

Last week I shared how inspired I was during the class Putting Family Back Into Family History. I briefly mentioned that I had several writing activities to do during the class. I was struck by the power this particular memory brought back to me. Two years ago this past Thursday, my mother passed away. In the writing class, I was able to capture and preserve a valuable life lesson.

Penny Geiszler in the 1980s
Mom about the time of this story
My mother worked as a secretary or an administrative assistance for most of my growing up years. One Friday, she had worked all day and was called into her boss's office. She was told she was being let go and given a pink slip. Her heart sank. 
Mom was the one with the stable job that had health benefits in the 1980s. She knew this would be a great loss to our family. In addition to bringing home her desk items, she had to pick up my birthday cake. You see, I was having a few friends over for a slumber party. She was supposed to leave work with a decorated cookie cake. Now, she was carrying home despair, her work belongings, and a cake. 
When Mom got home, she did what she could to focus on my party. Thankfully, only two friends were over. The thing that strikes me most is what I remember about my mom. I knew mom was sad but, in that moment, she was concerned about me and my special day.
This was a powerful 5-minute writing assignment. I love this memory in how it starts out really sad but then turns to a positive note.

Remember how I said last week the teacher took things from good to great? Again, I don't want to give away her whole class. However, I'll share what I was then inspired to do with this memory.

Leave the backgrounds in historic photos
The room where I believe this story took place, The photo is
horrible but I remember the house by that wall paper.
I have many memories based on certain elements in the story. I remember this was a time when mom had curly hair and big glasses (see photo above). I seem to remember which room she was in when she broke the news to dad. I seem to remember hearing it (perhaps Dad reacted loudly when her heard the news) and leaving my friends to give her a comforting hug.  Additionally, I remember several physical characteristics of one friend who came to the party. That helps me know which friends to look for in photos, if it is still possible. Perhaps I can look through my school files to try to remember who would have been at the party.

Because I could visualize the room the story took place, I knew which rental house we lived in at the time. As such, I am nearly certain of which years the story could have happen in.

With the memory of which house and the narrowed down year range, I could look at mom's resume (see below) and figure out the job she was released from. I am confident that I have the right time frame figured out for this story based on this resume, and the scribbled note.

Personal History
A resume is an important piece of personal history. Have you saved yours?

As I pieced together parts, I now have more depth to the memory. I can expand the 5-minute writing exercise to describe the home we were in, where it was located in Texas, the job mom was released from, and so much more. Without my mother here to help me expand on the story, I was surprised how much I could recreate on my own. All of this started with a great teacher inspiring me to write and showing how the memory can develop further.

Family history really is all about the stories. I'm so glad I took the writing class.

05 December 2014

Photo Friday: So Frustrated With Camera

Great photo from simple camera
Favorite photo taken using my PowerShot SX100IS
Last year, the camera that has captured much of what I have shared in my Treasure Chest Thursday posts stopped working. The lens just wouldn't open any longer. I can hear the tragic, "wa, wa, wah" as I recall the day I knew I needed a new camera.

My Canon PowerShot SX100IS was such a good little camera. It gave me enough freedom to learn the manual settings but had great shooting modes when I just wanted the camera to do all the work. The quality of the photos were an up grade from a point and shoot camera and the speed of taking photos was good enough for me.

I attempted to research a new camera and upgrade from what I had. I purchased the Canon SX 50 and I have been greatly disappointed basically since I opened the box. I thought I'd eventually learn the camera and I wouldn't have buyer's remorse; however, the more I used the camera the more frustrated I became. When it came time to photograph my treasure, I knew I had made a terrible purchase. This is not the kind of camera that does small object photography well. It also wasn't fast enough to photograph my kids either. Precious memories were filled with blurry photos more often than not. I essentially stopped taking many photos.

Best I could get with the Canon SX 50.
It's really blurry in full size. Some photos are much worse.
I know many people say you can take great photos no matter the camera you get. It's really the photographer. To an extent, I agree. My gut said this camera was not a good fit for my needs. That thought was confirmed when I took the camera to the pro shop in town. They said I had the wrong camera. My research was flawed somehow when the camera I purchased was recommended for what I wanted to do. There was no way around it.

Now the decision has to be made. Find something truly similar to the old SX100 or completely upgrade to a dSLR. I have been hesitant to upgrade to a dSLR because of the price and not truly knowing all the manual settings. I suppose it's time to learn.

So, I'm hoping to find a camera that fits my needs. I want to get back into photographing my personal history and the treasures of my ancestors. The challenge is I need to get familiar with this camera before a spring trip to Disney World. Let's just say, I'm going to be putting Treasure Chest Thursday on hold for awhile until a new camera purchase is made.

03 December 2014

Inspired By Family History Writing Class

I thoroughly enjoyed a class at a recent family history conference. Interestingly, it was probably the most 'simple' class of all, meaning it was a low technology class. The title was Putting Family Back Into Family History. This topic falls in line so well with what I teach in my book 21st Century Family Historian, I was anxious for the class.

To order your copy visit
Boy was I in for a treat! The teacher had a few simple display items: a house dress, an iron, and a quilt. Additionally, she gave everyone a copy of the My Family: STories That Bring Us Together booklet for use during the workshop. I used my notepad so that I would have plenty of writing room, but I loved this little touch. A booklet to keep all the stories together. Now it was time to think about the stories that could go into such a booklet.

The instructor managed her time so well by introducing her theme and working these pieces into the class. Then she asked for audience participation. As an experienced speaker, she allowed for silence to not scare her. She knew that many folks, including myself, were thinking. Additionally, she manager her time to allow for class participation. We had time to do writing exercises to take something home from the class. What a delight! I would love to take another class from her in the future.

Now, why was this writing class so good? The teacher shared a story and how it developed from one simple childhood memory. I don't want to give her entire class but I'll hit some highlights.

First, her memory started with her grandparents, her parents, and herself on a trip when their car broke down. Grandpa heads off to find help and the rest stay stranded in the car. She remembers her grandmother singing and comforting all in the car with her songs. Apparently the songs were popular during World War II.

Now, the instructor could have stopped her story right there, but she developed the memory further and walked us through the process. This is where she took her class from good to great. All the while, she stopped for brief writing exercises to have the class engaged rather than just listening. She ended the class by showing how we can post our story, accompanying photos, and audio recordings to go with them on

The highlight for me was I actually had a memory to write about. I didn't think I had any solid memories to share as I just can't remember many details from my childhood. However, I did remember one story. I'll share that story next week.

21 November 2014

Yeah, yeah, I know... Not everything is online

Family history has become amazing in efficiently and ability to be worked on when I have time to work on it. Usually, my uniform is a pulled back pony tail and my pajamas. Perhaps a water bottle is close by. My family is usually snoozing and I can't sleep. Or maybe, this is my idea of fun when I still daylight mommy time.

More times than I care to count, I've been told that not everything is online. It's usually folks at least 10 years older than me telling me this. And, the comment is not a joke when shared.

21st Century Family Historian by Devon Lee
I would so love to be snooty in my response but that's not going to do anyone any favors. Instead, I wrote a whole chapter in my new book 21st Century Family Historian about the two sides of the statement 'Not everything is online".

On the one hand, family historians should remember than not every record is currently available online at Ancestry, FindMyPast, or FamilySearch. Some boots on the ground work will be necessary. However, there is plenty of work we can do prior to going in-person to a home, cemetery, or repository that will enable us to be more efficient and productive. I learned this first hand in my 2012 trip to Ohio.

Check out my book 21st Century Family Historian, available at to learn about how you can use what is online to improve the quality of your in-person research trips. And the next time you hear someone say, "Not everything is online," just smile and nod. They're right, but they're also not telling a full truth.

19 November 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: Home From the Hospital

Can there be a blue-paged layout in a baby girl scrapbook? Yes! I think it depends upon the subject of the layout. In this case, the photos were of my older brother shortly after I came home from the hospital. Pink would not necessarily have complimented his mischievous yet innocent photos. So, I selected colors from my 70s themed color palette that would compliment the story and photos.

Baby Album Scrapbook Layout

Baby Album Scrapbook Layout
My New Home: Page Kit - Ocean Views by Word Art World
As mentioned last time, I included pages from my original baby book written in my mother's script. Although the scans were not at 300 dpi, I am so glad these items were large enough to still be legible in my heritage scrapbook.

In this layout, I  attempted to compensate for my horrible hack job to my original childhood photos. This tragedy took place in the early 2000s when I had so many photos that had no story but I wanted to include them in my first scrapbooking project. (Avoid this problem by labeling all photos, which I mention in my new book.)

When I started this project, I wanted to give more substance to my personal heritage scrapbook and I cringed at what I had done. In a previous post, I asked readers what I should do with the photos. In the lower right corner of the first image, you can see how used the photo from that previous post. This process was too time consuming and in future posts, you'll see that I just let it be. One reader named Heidi said, "You did the best with what you had and what you knew at the time." She's so right, so I've started to forgive myself my past troubles.

The story was too hard to write for this layout. I have no memories from this time period and my mother really didn't record too many stories about my brother and me. I still firmly believe photos without stories is a wasted effort, so what was I going to do? I decided to write a few things my mother had mentioned (length of hospital stay, having dogs, who the gifts were from). Did I write award winning journaling? Nope. That's not my goal. I want to give my photos stories including little pieces of my childhood.
My mother says women were forced to stay in the hospital for three days before going home. On one hand, that sounds lovely. On the other hand, it's probably best to get home soon. Whatever the case, it was time for me to be taken home. My first home was in the neighborhood of Bexley, Ohio on the east side of Columbus.  
In that home I had mom, dad, and my four year-old brother David. Plus, we had two German Shepard dogs.  
With so many Geiszler and Brown relatives close by, I received a ton of gifts. Gifts from friends of mom and dad from their work and church were also received. I was one blessed baby!
I'm so proud of this layout because I was able to create journaling without much to work with. Also, I was able to use photos I had butchered in a pleasing way. Finally, I didn't limit myself to a pink color palette just because I was a baby girl. This page was a challenge but I really think it turned out well.

Give your personal history scrapbook the freedom to adapt to the challenges you have and you'll be pleased with the result.

13 November 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Two More Coins from the Collection

In the previous posts, I've shared what can happen when you put the same coin under different lighting conditions. This week, I'll share two more coins from my husband's childhood collection.

Apollo 11 Commemorative Coin
Apollo 11 Commemorative Coin
f/3.5, exp 1/4, ISO 80 
Pattern Metering
Apollo 11 Commemorative Coin
Simply crop out the tape mark before including the
photo in your final project!

I hope that my photography skill level inspires you to take photos of the things you've held onto for years.

Disney World Coin
Disney World Coin
f/4, exp 0.6 sec, bias +0.7, ISO 80
Center Weighted Average Metering
Disney World Coin

The items you photograph can belong to yourself, your children, your spouse, or your ancestors. All of these things have stories. Photograph them and record the stories before the memories are forgotten or locked up beyond the grave.

12 November 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: Baby Girl Birth Layout

Do you have old photos, a baby book, and the story surrounding your birth or that of someone you love? If you do, you have the foundation for a great baby themed heritage scrapbook page.

Vintage Baby Scrapbook Layout
Birth: Paper and Elements from Correen Silke, Hello, Auntie

When crafting a heritage album about a specific person, it's important that your pages accomplish a number of things. Some of those tasks include: visually presenting the subject, uniting stories with photos, and keeping the focus on the content rather than the design. If you missed my post 9 Tips to Making a Heritage Album Someone Actually Wants to Read, you can see so ways to accomplish your goals.

Challenges for this layout

The challenges I had with creating this layout are numerous. I was given my baby book after I married. At the time, I was doing a lot of scanning and posting to the internet and thought it would be great to preserve my baby book. At the time, I was told to scan at 72 dpi. After the book was scanned, I did not preserve it. At the time, I felt I had it preserved and I was not worried.

Fast forward 10 years and I want to use portions of my baby book in my scrapbook. Scans and images that are large at 72 dpi do not often translate well on a 300 dpi page. The size you see on this layout of my baby bracelets and my mother's hand written entries are as big as they get.  Since I didn't preserve the album, I do not have the opportunity to rescan the items for the book. 

Lesson learned: Scan your stuff at 300 dpi or higher and preserve the original treasures of historical significance.

Opt for simplicity

The other challenge is the conflicting color variance of the two photos with the handwritten entries and the baby bracelets. What could I do? 

I decided the best thing I could do was use the page elements to suggest that this was a girl baby, not a boy bay. The soft peach/pink was perfect. The colors are muted enough that they do not compete with the photos or the memorabilia. Finally, I created a journaling block that recorded the fun stories of my birth.

Sure the elements don't place nice visually with each other, however, the historical value of these memorabilia out weigh the conflicts. The accounts surrounding my birth in my mother's handwriting and the size comparison of my mother's bracelet and my infant arm band are great treasures. 

By opting for simplicity, I put the emphasis on the historical nature of these items.

You're not trying to win awards!

I keep looking at this page layout thinking, it's not my favorite or my best. I keep wanting to figure out what how to improve upon it. I could spend hours trying to make my page 'award worthy'. If I did, I'd lose the most important part of my project, to focus on the stories and photos. The design is the glue for my project but not the most important thing. Also, I want to actually complete my projects sometime within the next year. With that being said, I can focus on making something that is pleasant enough to accomplish my goals, even if it's not the next grand-prize scrapbook layout winner.

I hope my honesty will help you cut yourself some slack if your heritage scrapbooks are not  worthy of being in Creative Keepsakes Magazine. Trust me on this. Your family (your true audience) won't care! They'll love your work. 

No go create a scrapbook page. Then let me know how things went.

10 November 2014

What Should You Get Your Family For Christmas?

Happy HalloThanksMas!

Actually, I don't like the intrusion of Christmas into November any more than the next person. However, planning ahead for Christmas purchases is a great financial tip. As Christmas is approaching, consider how you, as a family historian, could use this gifts you share this year could motivate your family to help capture and preserve memories in 2015.

After writing my book 21st Century Family Historian, I have spent much time thinking about simple ways you could attract family members put family back into family history.

1. Photo storage boxes 
If the family photo collection looks like this, a photo box
makes a perfect gift!
I rediscovered this blog post about the importance of proper preservation. The overall point is that organization is key. If your family photo collection looks like this photo, your family could use some better storage solutions. Also, consider giving these boxes to family members with the old magnetic albums that are doing more harm to the family photo collection.
You can find Kleer-Vu Archive Storage boxes on line in a variety of colors. The price is around $7/box.   
Give these purposeful and often attractive boxes as gifts and tell your family members to gather their loose photos into a box. Then tell them they organized the photos they're beyond amazing.
Challenge them to gather and/or organize the photos by Valentine's Day. This becomes a gift that could keep on giving, for now and well into the future. Your can reward your productive family members with delicious heart-themed sugary goodies in February if they accomplish the goal!!!  
2. Artifact & Collection storage supplies 
From acid-free labeling pens, to coin preservation sleeves, proper media storage boxes, and more... anything that can protect against further deterioration of family treasures would make a great family history themed gift. Gaylord Bros has is a trusted name in archival supplies with a such a wide variety of products you're certain to find something for the item on your list. 

3. Scanner 

If the family photo collection isn't digitized, it might be time for a scanner.
Most scanners on the market today do a wonderful job of digitizing your photos. If no one in your family has digitized any of your photos, next year could be the year to focus on photos. Do a simple Google Search for scanners. A flat bed scanner is very versatile but not portable. Wand scanners and FlipPals are popular because of their portability. There are also document scanners that can process a lot of pages quickly, however they are not good for photos or for fragile papers. Look at what you hope to scan and then do some research to find the right scanner.

4. Family History Inspired Photo Collages 
Many times for people to become interested in family history, they need to see it and be reminded of it. PibWib is a Houston, Texas based printing company that has wonderful family history themed collages that you can print. You'll need to download their design software to your computer to use their services.

5. Digital Photo Albums with space for writing 
I personally do not like digital photo albums that have little to no text inside them. However, many relatives live far away from each other. Many older relatives are not computer savvy. Why not create a digital photo album with various photos that you want to learn more about? Then, send the printed album and an archival safe pen to the family member who knows the story behind these photos. 
Inspire the gift receiver to write all over the books any memories, anecdotes about the people in the photos. The relative will not only be giving you the information you need and desire, but they'll be creating a new family heirloom... without harming the original photos! 
One of my favorite digital photo book making companies is Give them a try. Opt for layout color schemes that allow plenty of contrast between the pen's ink. Also use photo arrangements and leave room for writing.

6. A memory recording app 
I'll be honest, my digital sound recording has involved using my laptop and a microphone to record some one talking. I do not have any memory recording app recommendations, but you tech whizs out there should consider scouting for a voice recording app for your family members and buy them in the iTunes or Google Play stores for your relatives. If your intended relative is tech adverse, opt for something very simple that can export WAV files. If your intended user is more technically astute, then look for a story capture app that perhaps guides the user through family history oriented questions.  
If you find an app that is a great simple go to app, let me know. If you find a reliable app that is more robust, let me know that as well. If you want to buy me a really cool smart phone, send me an email. Okay, I'm just kidding. Just seeing if you're still with me!

7. A journal or a journal jar 
Journals are great personal history gifts. Today's memories are tomorrow's family history. Give a journaling kit as a gift. The kit would include a journal with a cover tailored to your relative's interest. A set of archival quality pens. A set of family history inspired journal prompts. The prompts could be put in a journal jar, as found in this blog post, or your could create a list of must answer questions to include with the book. Be sure the prompts are targeted to your individual to make it more interesting. Include prompts such, "Why do we always say something lost is with the Social Security Cards?" "Tell me the story of grandma's fiance who died before they married." "Why did Grandma Helen's hands always shake?" "Why is Aunt Mary Jane's real name actually Aunt Annie?" "Why did Grandpa Joe always whistle while he worked?" "Why do we always have pot roast on Sunday?" And so on and so forth. Certainly include some 'normal' prompts in the jar or on the list, but make it even more thoughtful by including story prompts for things you've been curious about.
Family History Motivational Book
Pick up your copy at
8. An motivational family history book 
Do you have family members who cringe at the thought of doing family history? Is someone in your midst a former genealogist who is burnt out? Do you have a genealogy lover who could use a few new ideas? Then my book 21st Century Family Historian would be a great read. For the reluctant readers, encourage them to read the first part of the book and then read one chapter from the second part that interests them. You might be surprised in how much more receptive they will be after reading this book.

I full believe in two things related to family history. First, that it can no longer be the effort of one individual who is 'into it'. The history is about a family and each family members should do something to help capture and preserve their collective memories. Secondly, turn people's hearts and you won't have to prod them to help. When I've focused on stories and memories, I have found more willing participants who will get out their photos and artifacts to share with me. Those items help me to that much more work and enrich the stories I uncover.

May your holiday season be filled with great new memories with your loved ones and perhaps be an opportunity to find a few more volunteers to help advance your family history related goals.

By the way, I'd love to say that if you use the services I recommend that I get a kick back, but the only thing I receive compensation for is my authored book. 

05 November 2014

The Little Details Matter at a Conference

The inner workings of local family history conferences is much on my mind. I have assisted in the planning of a conference before. I also have a renewed interest in behind the scenes decision making. I recently attended a conference hosted by a local church. For the most part, the conference was wonderful. I learned much and felt a renewed fire to do my research. Much great conference planning was also observed. Let me share some of the little details to consider if you, or I, plan a conference in the near future.

Pre-Registration Is A Must

Andy Lee at Family History Conference
How can you plan for something if you have no idea how many people will attend and what they would like? I remember my wedding reception planning. If we never asked people to RSVP, how would we know how much food to provide, how many tables to set up, and so forth? Same goes when I'm hosting a party of any kind at my home. How many people are coming and their dietary needs are very important pieces of information when planning. 

I've heard some people indicate that pre-registering for a free family history conference would turn people away who don't have computers. These potential attendees may feel they can't come if they are not pre-registered. Would someone really not attend if they could not pre-register? How many people fail to RSVP for wedding receptions but still show up? Enough that wedding planners advise brides to plan for such people. Same would hold true for conferences. Plan for the pre-registered individuals and leave some wiggle room for additional guests.

Without knowing how many folks are coming and what classes they hope to attend, classroom allocation becomes nothing more than a game on the Price is Right. Like those contestants, you don't know enough to make a truly informed decision and you're making a best guess. Often, that guess is wrong and the contestant doesn't win the prize, but sometimes they do. When planning a conference without pre-registration, the prize is a comfortable learning environment. Frequently, a popular class will be put in a small classroom and a sparsely attended class will be in a large room. This is easily solved by knowing how many people wish to attend each class.

Tell Me Where to Go

Having learned the importance of signage while working for an airport, there is a marketing fact that says people need to be visually directed where to go. Often, small conferences will simply give a building map or place signs on the outside of classrooms. A conference that goes beyond these essential items really understands people. Signs with classrooms and arrows would take it to the next level. A simple detail that reaps tremendous rewards, though often unappreciated.

This conference had beautiful signs identifying the location of each conference room. A plain sign could have done the job just as well. However, the crafty signs were lovely and added an extra special flare to the conference. 

Don't Over Use a Feel Good Item

Many conference have themes and invite presenters to work those themes into their classes. I'm all for themes as they create conference synergy. There is a difference between synergy and overkill, and it's important to know the difference. 

Overkill is listening to the same discussion of an article three or four times. Further, when the analysis of the same article gets progressively longer in length during each subsequent class, presenters have wasted valuable class time. (This applies to feel good / introductory articles, not necessarily a staple such as Evidence Explained or other genealogy reference book.)

If you witness that an article you were planning to use in your class has been discussed at length in previous classes, cut your usage down. Use a quote or two to tie the classes together and then focus on the remaining content of your class. If you find that your class material is considerably shorter without your article discussion, then allow more time for class participation and questions on what your class was supposed to teach. If your class ends early, send them to the snack table or exhibits.

A Little Bit of Hospitality Goes A Long Way

This is the first conference that I've attended that offered a refreshment table. The coordinators had small water bottles, a choice of granola bars or cookies, and complimentary napkin. At first glance, I thought that this was unnecessary. However, I soon learned the wisdom of this hospitable decision.

Around the second hour of the conference, I was a little hungry and definitely thirsty. Could I have made do with the water fountain? Sure. However, the snack table was really nice. Especially considering I hadn't eaten since very early that morning and lunch still hours away.  

Kudos for this conference to adding a little bit of hospitality. I hope more conferences will consider this in the future. 

Set the Mood For the Conference

Family History is Everyone's Responsibility
Set the Mood with a slide show of cool things
Finally, this is one area that few local conferences have done perhaps because it isn't absolutely necessary. Many conferences have registration starting 30 minutes to 1 hour before the opening remarks or first class begins. What should be provided for those individuals who arrive early and have a long wait before everything starts? I'd really like to hear some answers from you. 

I arrived at this local conference early primarily because it was potentially more than 45 minutes away. I wanted to ensure I didn't get lost or run into traffic along the way. Additionally, I didn't know what to expect from their registration process, since they didn't have pre-registration. I would hate to come in close to start time to spend wasted learning time in a registration line.

Things ran so smoothly that morning, I arrived with plenty of time to spare. After picking up my name badge, I had a lot of time to kill. Now what? Honestly, I was bored.

I observed that conference exhibits were still setting up but some were already prepared for the day. I went and visited these displays knowing I probably wouldn't make time later. I'm not sure, but I sensed some conference planners weren't to pleased with me. The exhibit folks didn't mind and were happy to visit with me as they really didn't have anything else to do. Maybe I'm making more out of this than I should, but without knowing it was really okay, I did feel guilt but also needed something to do.

After visiting a handful of exhibits (remember, small conference), I still had 15 minutes to kill. By now, about half the day's attendees were at the site and had completed registration. Many were visiting in the opening meeting room. Some were visiting but many looked as awkwardly bored as me. What do we do? How do we kill the time? In that moment, I felt something was missing. What could a conference do for such inevitable situations? Then a thought came to me. Set the stage. 

Perhaps it's the pageant background in me. Perhaps it's a small thing I noticed at larger conferences. Perhaps it's having children who have been in dance recitals. Whatever the reason, I remembered how various events set the stage and generated excitement by having music or a slideshow play 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the event. The music doesn't have to be loud and the slideshow doesn't have to be professional. The subtle clue invoked is we're going to start sound and we're going to have a great time together. 

My father-in-law teaches seminars around the country. He has a loop of photos that he starts 30 minutes prior to the start of his workshops. This loop has photos of him, his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. It's nothing fancy and not all photos are great quality as many are from the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, they tell stories to give attendees a sense of who will  be presenting. There's not a lot of work involved in creating this slideshow but the little detail really sets the stage for the meeting.

I would love to see more local family history conferences do the same thing. Someone on the tech staff can create a slide show of family photos that plays on a loop. If they add a little music to the slide show as well, all the better. Simply give your attendees something to do while they wait for the conference to start. Let them feel like they're going to have a great time because you added this one little detail. 

Anyway... I'm sure many of you have other little details that make a small scale conference go from good to great. I'd love to hear them. Leave your tips below. Perhaps they'll be used at your next local conference. 

04 November 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: Successes and Not

Grave markers help me to learn more clues to solve the mystery of my ancestors' lives. Sometimes markers can be found. Other times, they cannot. It's important to record what is available so that others do not duplicate work.

To prevent further efforts wasted searching for stones that do not exist, I want to report on some of my recent photo requests through Those volunteers willing to search cemetery sections looking for non-existent stones are simply wonderful, even if a photo was not made available. I thank you.

Isaac Heindel
b. Sep. 16, 1860 in Lima, Allen County, Ohio, USA
d. Oct. 10, 1938 in West Jefferson, Madison County, Ohio, USA
Isaac is the second husband of Cora (Rogers) Feather Heindel Peak

Although a death record indicated that he was buried in Hathaway Cemetery, no grave marker was found.

Could this be Maggie's stone? I'm doubtful but I need to
investigate further. Photo by Devon Lee
Marguerita Magdalena "Maggie" Hoppe Geiszler
b. Apr. 4, 1861 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, USA
d: Feb. 3, 1921 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, USA

The grave stone for Magdalena was not found during my visit in 2012. She's supposed to be buried on the same plot as her sister Annie Ross (Sect 46, Lot 46). A volunteer confirmed my belief that there is no specific stone for Maggie Geiszler. There is a stone with just Maggie on it. I'll have to check with the Cemetery office to see if there are other Maggies around Annie Ross' plot or if this is indeed Maggie's stone.

James Pleasant Geisler
b: Jul. 20, 1858 in South Bloomfield, Pickaway County, Ohio, USA
d: Dec. 23, 1946 in Franklin County, Ohio, USA

Obetz Cemetery was a challenging cemetery to visit as many records are very disorganized. However, a volunteer went to this cemetery and found no stone. They were told by the cemetery office that no marker is on this plot.

Ida Jane Townsend Sanborn
b: Apr. 25, 1867 in Valley Crossing, Franklin County, Ohio, USA
d: May 20, 1941 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, USA

Ida's also buried in Obetz Cemetery. She's supposed to be buried in Sect 8, lot 86, spc 3 but she wasn't found. The volunteer found another person in the same lot Stanley Jenkins but no marker for Ida Sanborn. I'll need to call the cemetery and ask if they can give you any information. Perhaps the wrong cemetery is listed in the records I've gathered.

Jefferson Babcock Ranck
b: Feb. 5, 1850 in Lockbourne, Franklin County, Ohio, USA
d: Jan. 13, 1902 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, USA
Elizabeth Jane Brown Ranck
b:  Jan. 16, 1850 in Hocking County, Ohio, USA
d: Oct. 27, 1900 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, USA

Jefferson and Elizabeth should be buried in Fernwood Cemetery in Lockbourne, Franklin County, Ohio. A volunteer searched the cemetery and came up empty handed.

Section P, Lot 62
No headstone; grave is to left of this marker.
Photograph by Mn8x
Mary E Gordon Booker
b: Aug. 19, 1829
d: Jan. 2, 1917

No stone is available for Mary Gordon, wife of Oakman Booker. However, the volunteer photographed where Mary was buried with an identification marker of another person's stone. This is much better than nothing when possible.

Emily "Emma" Stone Peak
b: Dec. 8, 1836 in Kentucky, USA
d: Nov. 12, 1913 in Dayton, Campbell County, Kentucky, USA

Great grandma Emma Peak should be buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Sec 31 Grave 1891. A volunteer searched the plot and found no stones for Emma. Perhaps she's buried in a different section? However, it's more likely that no stone was placed. Additionally, her husband William is not listed in the cemetery records.

Hoppe family marker
Mary Fink Hoppe
b: Aug. 31, 1839
d: Aug. 17, 1913

The volunteer named Anonymous has helped me so much in the Green Lawn cemetery. She had this to say about Mary Hoppe's memorial.
"There is no individual marker for Mary Fink Hoppe, only this family marker. The only individual marker for a Hoppe in Section W, Lot 175, is for Mary Ann Hoppe James."

Alright, that's enough of an update for now. Thank you to all the volunteers who serve as gravestone photographers. I know it's difficult work at times and often, no stone can be found. However, I appreciate even the news that no stone can be found. Hopefully, this list will prevent other family members from doing duplicate work.

30 October 2014

Thankful Thursday: Find A Grave Keeps Getting Better

If you've read any of my Tombstone Tuesday posts, you'll know that I'm a huge fan of My praises for the volunteer photographers should come through in every post. However, today I want to thank the developers who work behind the scenes to make this resource so amazing.

Previously, I shared how individuals could serve others by supporting Find A Grave efforts. One way would be to photograph stones. Another would be to submit information to memorial mangers. This process has become much easier and faster and I want to thank the developers.

Gay Curlis' Memorial Page Before

I found the parents buried in Green Lawn Cemetery and I wished to submit links to their memorials. I copied the father's and mother's Memorial ID number (I placed it into a notepad file, in case you're wondering). Then I selected the Edit tab in the upper right hand corner of the webpage.

Updating Memorials on Find A Grave
Select the Edit Tab to recommend changes for a Memorial Page
In the past, the page sent you to an email creation form. Now, you can select various options for the kinds of updates you want to make.

Updating Memorials on Find A Grave
Select the option that fits the information you have.
I knew the parent numbers and I wanted the Dave Davisson to link Gay Gean to her parents. There was another simple form to complete and the request was quickly on its way. No need to make sure I had all the information in the correct order. No need to draft a polite letter. A simple form and the information was on it's way.

And sooner than I expected, I received notification that Gay Gean's memorial page was updated.

Updating Memorials on Find A Grave
Gay Curlis' Memorial Page After
You'll notice that the place of her birth and death were also updated. A second link on the previous image took me to the form to submit this information. Again, no need to spend time crafting a polite request. Fill out the form with the specific information and it's done.

Thank you Dave Davisson for updating the records. Thank you Find A Grave for this painless process. I know that Dave has processed numerous memorial updates for me in the past and this process is making his life a whole lot easier.

24 October 2014

I Hate To Break It To You

Recently, a number of different people have been 'excited' to see how far their lineage will take them. Some claim their records go all the way back to Adam. Others say Jesus and in Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph. Others say Charlemagne.

I hate to break it to you, but I just don't buy it. And, does it really matter if you're related to someone famous? Don't those ordinary folks who crossed the ocean from Germany to Ontario, Canada and cried when they saw the state of their new home matter just as much as Richard the Lionheart? To me, because I know what family history truly is, Phebe Zumstein matters more to me than any king of England.

As I share in my book, 21st Century Family Historian, your lineage to these famous people is more than likely false.

Ouch! How can I say that?

Well, here's an excerpt from my book:
As migrations across Europe and to the new world occurred, many people held on to their recorded heritage. Other families lost their lineage records as they migrated. Often, individuals seeking to re-establish their heritage would hire professionals and if they were lucky, the professional would compile an accurate lineage. In the past, several of these compilations were fabricated out of whole cloth. Far too often, these heritage books would link a person to Charlemagne or other historical hero when there was no such documented evidence.

As more and more lineage works were discovered to be fraudulent, genealogical proof became important. Thus, when genealogy was taught, the need to find documents verifying facts was stressed.
George Joseph Geiszler of Columbus Ohio
I'm related to a railroad pattern maker from
Columbus, Ohio. He may not be famous, but
he means a lot to me.

I really hate to break it to folks that they're work isn't done all the way back to Adam and Eve. I hate to tell them that their trees probably include references to Norse Gods, thus it's probably also fabricated. No one wants to hear that.

When I hear such things, I gently remind folks that the pattern maker from Columbus, Ohio who appeared to have overcome alcoholism matters more to me than how far back my line can go. I also suggest that their grandparents, great-grandparents, and 2x great grandparents should matter more than the famous folks from the 15th century. Family history is about our stories.

If you are truly related to royalty, great. Make sure you record the stories of your closest royal blood relatives that no one knows so the direct descendants can know the person behind the title. If you are like the vast majority of the world, you're perfectly normal but that doesn't mean your story isn't important.

Go ahead and have fun seeing how far back your line goes. Have a laugh and brag a bit, but don't be disappointed if it turns out to be false.

22 October 2014

Heritage Scrapbooking: My Parents

Heritage scrapbook layout
My Parents: Tan & teal papers - Triple J Designs Sun Kissed;
Embellishments - Just Saskia The Birds & The Bees

In crafting a heritage scrapbook about myself, an important page to include would be a little tribute to the folks you gave me life. Throughout most of my growing up years, mom had her wedding photos readily available. The other photos were tucked away and rarely accessed, how truly sad. The additional photos are beautiful glimpses of my parents during their courtship. My father was so skinny! My mother actually tried to be fashionable. These two things changed quite a bit after I was born. If either were alive, I'd ask them more about it.  Regardless, I shared a brief story on my layout of how they met and when they married.

For the layout, I've selected three colors from my color palette so that the pages in the book coordinate with each other. The three I chose for the page, compliments the featured 1960s era photos. I love the brown paper on the outside of the layout. It has a lot of great texture and frames the remaining elements nicely. I was quite pleased with the increase in embellishments I used on this page. They still play a supporting role, yet there is enough to not be boring.

You may notice that this series of posts featuring layouts from my personal heritage scrapbook takes a different approach than previous books I've created featuring my parents and grandparents. Having completed my first heritage scrapbook that my family actually enjoys reading, I'm now prepared to work on the photo albums and stories of my own life.  This project will be chronologically organized. I'll leave the focal person approach to my children to summarize some day.

To learn what additional pages you should include in a family history scrapbook, purchase the eBook Family History Scrapbooking Simplified at This series also features tips recommended from my other eBook Power Scrapbooking

16 October 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Another Coin with Different Lighting

Here's another comparisson of the same coin under different lighting conditions, much like the previous Treasure Chest Thursday post. The first example is using a black backdrop, artifical light and a light box. The second using a white backdrop, natural light, and a white reflector.

Apollo Coin
f/3.5, exp 1/8, ISO 80
Pattern Metering

Apollo Coin
f/4, exp 1/2, bias +0.7, ISO 80
Center Weighted Average Metering

Which one is better for your project? That's a matter of personal preference. Having fun photographing the stuff of your families' lives.